PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — One of the toughest things to battle, the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections says, is misinformation.
“Our cyber posture is quite secure. I’m very comfortable with all of the measures we’ve taken and my colleagues but one of the avenues that’s yet to be corralled because we can’t control it is misinformation, mainly through social media,” said Brian Corley, the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections.
Each day, he said his office fields calls, which he encourages voters to make, and tries to provide clarity.
“We’re unknowingly playing into the hands of those who want to harm our democracy by sharing that stuff so I always tell them when in doubt check with us, but be careful what you’re sharing on social media because it can be very very catastrophic to the security of our elections,” he said.
The potential threat of foreign actors and cybercriminals trying to sway public opinion surrounding our elections is something officials have previously warned about.
But this week, intelligence officials announced Iran and Russia got a hold of voter registration information, which can be used to try to spread false information. Officials said they saw Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters and incite social unrest.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient, and you can be confident your votes are secure,” said the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, during a news conference Wednesday evening.
Thursday, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) released two alerts.
One alert warned Iranian hackers are creating fictitious media sites and spoofing media sites to spread voter registration data, anti-American propaganda and misinformation about voter suppression, voter fraud and ballot fraud.
The other alert said since at least September, Russian hackers have conducted a campaign against a wide variety of US targets and taken data from at least two servers.
The alert states in part:
“To date, the FBI and CISA have no information to indicate this APT actor has intentionally disrupted any aviation, education, elections, or government operations. However, the actor may be seeking access to obtain future disruption options, to influence U.S. policies and actions, or to delegitimize SLTT government entities.
As this recent malicious activity has been directed at SLTT government networks, there may be some risk to elections information housed on SLTT government networks. However, the FBI and CISA have no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised. Due to the heightened awareness surrounding elections infrastructure and the targeting of SLTT government networks, the FBI and CISA will continue to monitor this activity and its proximity to elections infrastructure.”
The U.S. Department of Treasury said it’s sanctioning Iranian entities, designating five for trying to influence elections in the United States. The agency said in a news release, “Components of the Government of Iran, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, have targeted the United States in order to subvert U.S. democratic processes.”
Florida’s Secretary of State, Laurel Lee, tweeted this:
NOTICE TO FLORIDA VOTERS: Malicious actors are using publicly available information in an effort to mislead and intimidate voters. Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law and our database is secure. Seek out trusted sources for election information. #TrustedInfo2020 #Protect2020— Laurel M. Lee (@FLSecofState) October 22, 2020
“You need to understand and get your information from a reputable source,” said Stacy Arruda.
She’s a retired FBI agent and the CEO of the Arruda Group, a risk management firm with cybersecurity expertise. She said disinformation is nothing new.
“In my 22 and a half years with the FBI, I would have to say that the absolute best intelligence service at this are the Russians. They just about invented it, they live it, it’s ingrained in them, they are the best at disinformation,” she said.
She said if you read an article or receive an outlandish email, you need to take it with a grain of salt, research and make sure your information is coming from a reputable source.
“All of the voter information reported voter information that’s out there and claims that it was stolen or this that, a lot of that information is available in the public realm,” Arruda said. “So bad guys are going out there scraping that information and putting it together and selling it to other bad guys. So let’s just continue business as usual and do what we do as a country and vote. And not be swayed by nonsense.”
Voters are encouraged to contact their local and state election officials for information on voting.
CISA also launched a rumor control website with more information.